Ruling Party Fails to Win Loyalty of Fractious Army
MILITARY units are defying orders from Beijing in a blatant sign that China's leaders cannot count on the Army to be a sure defender against popular unrest, military analysts say.Skip to next paragraph
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Military units have ignored, altered, and counteracted orders. Some units have recently resisted efforts by Beijing to take control of military factories, official reports say.
"Some units and cadres have ... a weakened concept of organizational discipline, failing to earnestly pursue many things expressly laid down by regulations," the Liberation Army News commented recently. "We must resolutely halt these practices."
Many military units have disregarded orders to intensify indoctrination of the rank and file, says a retired military officer.
Conservative leaders have tried to tighten their grip on the military since they coerced a reluctant and divided Army into crushing Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in June 1989. They have purged moderate officers and promoted obedient, hard-line Marxists.
Yet "the hold of the party on the military is uncertain and I doubt that Beijing has at all strengthened its hand on the gun since Tiananmen," says June Dreyer, an expert on the Chinese military at the University of Miami.
The intractable Army is unlikely to descend into open, factional conflict. The possibility of a military coup is also remote. But the Army is the most ominous wild card in the succession of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, military and political analysts say.
Rival party leaders will probably exploit the weak central control on the military and muster the support of some factions in the Army, the analysts say. For Mr. Deng's would-be successors, control over the military will be decisive but elusive.
The Army has been a cornerstone in the power base of every Communist leader since the party became a potent political force in the 1930s. Today, however, no Chinese can hope to match even Deng's shaky command over the armed forces, they say.
The party largely has itself to blame.
Party leaders require the military to act as its Praetorian Guard against popular opposition. Yet, they inadequately fund the Army, telling it to fend for itself.
Beijing also retards professionalism and the adoption of modern weaponry in the military by valuing socialist doctrine as more important than merit.
As a result, the "People's Army" intrudes on peoples' lives by leeching on public revenue and enforcing party rule. Unlike other armies it cannot only play the modern role as a protector against foreign aggressors.
In short, since launching economic reforms more than a decade ago the party has failed to guide the military to a popular, relevant, and wholly constructive role in China's less regimented society.
Resentment toward Beijing ran high in the military even before it was ordered to shoot the unarmed activists at Tiananmen Square.
Opportunities that emerged with market-oriented economic reforms during the 1980s have eluded most soldiers while enabling millions of Chinese citizens to become comparatively well off.
Spending on the military rose 25 percent last decade while commodity prices jumped 90 percent, according to Liberation Army News. The party has accelerated the growth in the military budget since the Tiananmen massacre, but not enough to compensate for inflation.
Soldiers have seen their prestige fall with their standard of living. Youths generally prefer to seek the unprecedented wealth and job opportunities from reform rather than meager pay in the poorly equipped Army.
Publicly scorned and short on cash, many Army units put their own interests before orders from Beijing. The party, strapped by a budget deficit, has unwittingly promoted the corrosion in the chain of command by telling the Army to look elsewhere for income.